Italian edition: Peliti Associati
Photography and text: Simon Norfolk
Design: Jonathan Towell
Afghanistan is unique, utterly unlike any other war-ravaged landscape. In Bosnia, Dresden or the Somme for example, the devastation appears to have taken place within one period, inflicted by a small gamut of weaponry. However, the sheer length of the war in Afghanistan, means that the ruins have a bizarre layering; different moments of destruction lying like sedimentary strata on top of each other. There are places near Bagram Air Base or on The Shomali Plain where the front line has passed back and forth eight or nine times – each leaving a deadly flotsam of destroyed homes and fields seeded with landmines. A parallel is the story of Heinrich Schliemann’s discovery of the remains of the classical city of Troy in the 1870s. Digging down, he found eleven cities deposited upon each other, each one in its turn rebuilt upon the rubble of its predecessor and later destroyed.
Continue on: https://www.simonnorfolk.com/afghanistan-chronotopia
The district of Afshar in western Kabul destroyed in fighting in the civil war of the early 1990s. Dec 2001. One or two hopefuls have recently returned and begun rebuilding. It's great that the work has been collected by some terrific institutions and museums which means it has a chance of being available in the distant future. The Getty in Los Angeles, SF MoMA and the V&A, amongst others, know how to archive colour photographs.
Wrecked Ariana Afghan Airlines aircraft bulldozed into a minefield at Kabul Airport. May 2002. Publication of this work in the New York Times Magazine began a decade's association with that title, but it also ran in magazines across Europe, South Africa, South America and as far away as the South China Morning Post.
Landscape with shepherd boy. Bullet-scarred apartment building and shops in the Kart-e Char district of Kabul. This area was trashed by many waves of fighting during the civil war of the 1990s. As the main road to the new Parliament and a US Special Forces base it has also seen many car-bomb attacks by the Taliban in more recent times. Dec 2001.
Rusting anti-aircraft canon caseings on Koh-e Asmai (known as 'Radio TV mountain') in central Kabul. This scree slope lay below a gun position and a ruined radio station and the rumour was it had been destroyed by a stealth bomber piloted by an American woman. Somewhere at the top of this picture is another American icon, a tossed away tin of Pepsi. The fine wires across this pile which at the time I took for trip wires, I later discovered were the discarded strings from kites. Dec 2001.
Collapsing avalanche arcades along the road up to the Salang Tunnel. This road through the Hindu Kush was a vital supply line for the warring parties and has probably had that role since the times of Alexander the Great who founded his colony Alexandria of the Caucasus at the mouth of the Salang. I'm honoured that the project has been included in some important group shows: Anne Tucker's 'War/Photography' show that toured from The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Simon Baker's 'Conflict, Time, Photography' from Tate Modern and Alona Pardo's Barbican exhibition 'Constructing Worlds.'
A victory arch built at the entrance to a local commanders's HQ in Bamiyan in the central highlands of Afghanistan in May of 2002. Zooming right into the centre shows the empty niche of one of the great Buddha statues that stood in Bamiyan for a thousand years until their destruction by the Taliban in 2001. Surrounding it are tiny sub-monasteries and hermit's caves. The work made the shortlist of the Citibank Prize (now know as the Deutsche Börse Prize). The judges gave the prize to an 'artist' who photographed handbags and his own penis. Oh well.
A Government building close to the former Presidential Palace at Darulaman in Dec 2001. It was only years after making this picture I discovered the building was the old Institute of Archaeology. In close-up one can see every bullet hole. The project won that year's European Publisher's Award which meant the work was published as a book. There were editions in English (twice), French, German, Spanish and Italian. I also received a Leica with my name engraved on it which I probably still have somewhere.
Former teahouse next to the wreckage of the old, Soviet-era 'Afghan Exhibition of Economic and Social Achievments' in Kabul. Balloons were illegal under the Taliban. Dec 2001. I was astonished that this picture and this project was so successful. There were more than 30 solo shows of the work, from Texas to Guernsey and it was still touring in 2010. My most well known picture, I thought it was OK to make the edit, it was my publisher Dewi Lewis who spotted it and elevated it to the cover of the book.